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September 06, 2003


Friedrich --

* I've got the worst batting-average imaginable when it comes to predicting the next hot "issue," but it's beginning to look like, for once, I'm onto something. (Hey, it happens.) As you know, I've been scratching my head for years over the topic of immigration -- especially the way that, even while many Americans are frankly worried about the question, the issue has so seldom become public. Now it's becoming public. A few incidators: here's an interview with Victor Davis Hanson about his new book, "Mexifornia." And here's a review of the book by James Q. Wilson.

* This kind of planning or that kind of planning? Well, how about no-planning? Chris Bertram (here) found this interesting piece (here) by Paul Barker on OpenDemocracy about Cedric Price, an English architect who was so appalled by the destructiveness of post-WW2 planning that he floated the idea of the "non-plan." Chris' new book about Rousseau has just been published in England, by the way (buyable here); it'll go on sale in the States in November.

* I've got a copy of Virginia Postrel's new book The Substance of Style (buyable here) but, to my shame, haven't read it yet. I'm looking forward to it, though: aesthetics, utility, taste, prosperity -- sounds provocative, enjoyable, helpful and downright 2Blowhardsish. She strikes me as one of the freshest, most alert thinkers around. For the moment I'm making do with this good q&a here that Sage Stossel has done with Postrel for The Atlantic Unbound. Here's Postrel's own excellent blog.

* A new cultureblog discovery, at least for me: Ionarts (here). High-end, civilized blogging that reveals 2Blowhards for the shiftless, cheesy, no-account tabloid it really is.

* I haven't followed pop music for almost 20 years now. I can't get past the feeling -- and, to be honest, I long ago stopped trying -- that it's music for kids. The last popster I paid attention to was Elvis Costello, whose range and variety of attacks continued to hold my interest, at least for a while. I wonder if any of his recent CDs are worth checking out. I did find this interview with Costello that Simon Hattenstone did for the Guardian here worth reading; Costello, who has a new CD of love songs coming out in a few weeks, has certainly lost none of his cussedness, his garrulousness, or his perversity.

* Tim Radford reports in the Guardian that scientists are more likely than lib-arts types to believe in God, here. A nice passage:

Colin Humphreys says that quite a number of his colleagues at Cambridge are also believers. "My impression is - and it is just an impression - that there are many more scientists on the academic staff who are believers than arts people."

Tom McLeish says something similar. He cheerfully offers several reasons why that might be so, one of which might be called the postmodernist effect. "Our dear friends in the humanities do get themselves awfully confused about whether the world exists, about whether each other exists, about whether words mean anything. Until they have sorted out whether cats and dogs exist or not, or are only figments in the mind of the reader, let alone the writer, then they are going to have problems talking about God."

Link thanks to Arts and Letters Daily (here).

* Aaron Haspel tells the story of William Sheldon, the psychologist behind "somatotypes," here. Sheldon's theory was that body type determines character -- to him we owe the categories of mesomorph, endomorph and ectomorph. (Excellent Aaron line: "Like Freud, Sheldon fancied himself a scientist.") Or was it more that body type influences character? Hmm. In any case, it's thanks to Sheldon that for a couple of decades nude "posture" photos were taken of students entering Ivy League schools. Aaron mentions Hillary and Meryl; I entered a ritzy boarding school during those years, and a posture shot was made of me too. Oooh, the lucky researcher who uncovers that.



posted by Michael at September 6, 2003


I love Tim McLeish's remark!! But I wonder if it has more to do with not really being able to define "art," which means achieving it is a sort of subjective thing, which makes people think they can do it by themselves; whereas in science they are confronted every day with wonders and mysteries that they know they cannot solve or recreate themselves which might mean they have to consider the presence of a spiritual being. Leaving aside that Michelangelo was a believer, maybe if you can sculpt like him you don't think you need any help. But, I believe that God had a hand in creating Michelangelo....

Posted by: annette on September 6, 2003 03:57 PM

The Guardian is likely indulging in wishful thinking about scientists and God. There was a 1998 study in Nature (not available online but summarized here) which concluded that the higher the level of scientific achievement, the lower the incidence of bleilef in any supernatural force or entity. Interestingly, biologists had lower levels of belief than anyone else.

Posted by: Michael Snider on September 6, 2003 04:10 PM

Regarding my comment: Or...maybe not! :)

Posted by: annette on September 6, 2003 04:18 PM

I wonder if the same thing holds true in the lib-arts? The greater the level of accomplishment, the less the likelihood of belief. Of course, that'd require that someone be able to measure a lit-arts level of accomplishment...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 6, 2003 04:52 PM

"Of course, that'd require that someone be able to measure a lit-arts level of accomplishment..."

Good luck!

Posted by: Michael Snider on September 6, 2003 05:38 PM

Regarding Elvis Costello: For what it's worth, I think Elvis Costello's recent CDs are definitely worth checking out, as are his not so recent CDs. That pop music--in recent decades anyway--is music for kids is by and large true. But EC's music is an exception. A friend of mine once said that EC's Imperial Bedroom was the first rock record for adults, and there's something to the claim. Elvis has his flaws--he's probably too pessimistic about humanity, for instance, and at times his brilliant word play is overindulged at the expense of sense--but he's a great melodist and lyricist (at least for someone like me who adores inspired puns; just one example: "Sometimes I think that love is just a tumor/You've got to cut it out"), and I can think of nobody in the world of pop music who has attempted such a wide range of projects and been so generally successful--artistically if not popularly--than Elvis Costello.

By the way, in addition to the new CD that's about to come out, North, three early EC CDs will be reissued by Rhino tomorrow, two of them among his best, Get Happy! and Trust, and another that is quite good, Punch the Clock. Each of these, like Rhino's other reissues of Elvis's work, contains a great number of bonus tracks (demos, singles releases, alternate and live versions); if these bonus tracks are as good as those found on earlier reissues, they will be more worthy of repeated listening than just about any other pop music of the last 30 years.

Posted by: Mike Kelly on September 8, 2003 04:24 PM

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